Design, adapt, adjust
Southern Vale Homes is a family-owned professional home building company specializing in designing residential housing throughout NSW and Victoria. From the start, they have had a very clear and simple goal – to build he homes clients want. They have worked hard to provide a range of house plans designed to give customers options, and are happy to adapt, adjust or completely redesign any of those plans to better fit the clients and their family.
“We consider it our responsibility to ensure that our homes are exactly what a client wants,” says founder and Director Graham Searle. “We simply won’t be happy until they’ve fallen in love.”
Graham Searle has been a registered builder in the domestic and commercial construction industries since 1986, when he recognized the need to provide quality residential new homes to consumers in the Victorian and NSW marketplace.
Before Graham recommenced in the building industry, he was working with a company in another business. After four years, he decided to go back and start from scratch, and “just build a few homes,” he says. “My ambition originally was to build 10 or 20, to be honest, and over the next five to 10 years, the business just grew.”
Over the last decade, Southern Vale and their list of clients have evolved in many ways. Some of their customers who came to them when they first launched are now coming back to them for a third time, along with their children. “We’ve got a good reputation and we finish the jobs we do,” says Graham.
Today, Southern Vales Homes and Southern Vale Constructions fall under the trading parent company Big G Trading Pty Ltd, which was registered in 1994.
What sets Southern Vale apart from other home builders is their ongoing quality of workmanship and the delivery of safe and efficient construction methods – as well as their flexibility. They have their own in-house professional drafting staff that creates and implements new home designs that account for numerous options and tastes, and reflect the varied needs and styles of their customers. Whether it is smaller type dwellings such as town houses or terraces, or larger city or country-style homes – Southern Vale can do it all.
“We’re very versatile and we do everything in-house,” Graham says. “We can get things done very quickly, which is probably the secret to our success.”
What also makes Southern Vale unique is their strong focus on customer service and relations. Behind their excellent service is a team of sales staff who accommodate the clients every need. They also have quality systems in place to ensure those services meet the client’s “wish list.”
“Our supervisors are very experienced and are pretty good with public relations and communication. They’re also very responsive to problems and issues,” Graham says. “That’s the other secret – if it’s not right, fix it.”
Backbone of the company
Graham Searle has always said that Southern Vale Homes’ staff of more than 30 employees is really “the backbone of any company.” A good indicator of their favoured corporate culture is the fact that former employees tend to return to the organisation several years after leaving. “The grass is always greener on the other side,” Graham says. “But we have a culture in our company that encourages teamwork, and people respond to that.”
Whether building in established markets or extending to additional areas, Southern Vale also strives to work with only the best quality subcontractors on the market – people who are able to live up to the company’s high expectations..
“As long as you got the volume to keep them busy, they stay with you,” Graham says. As a result, Southern Vale has enjoyed superb relationship with sub-contractors, many of whom have been with them since 1994.
During recent years, the company’s quality work has been recognized and awarded multiple times by numerous industry bodies such as HIA and the Master Builders association of Victoria – a fact that Graham is very proud of. These awards were granted based on the quality of work Southern Vale achieves on each and every job. “It’s very important for customers coming into our display homes and to the office to see we have some recognition in that quality area,” he says.
Last year, they won The Age/D&B Victorian Business Award in Building and Allied Industries category, which made Graham “extremely happy” because quality is their number 1 focus. “All those years of hard work paid off.”
At Southern Vale Homes, an important aspect of how they deliver their services is through updating various types of software. “We invest in that all the time,” Graham says. For estimating, they use data build software, while their drafting program uses a rivet drafting system. All their staff recently completed training on the draft program and energy ratings systems, so “that it all comes together,” Graham says.
Their commitment to technology is demonstrated with regional accreditation in numerous areas – SA4801 for Occupational Health and Safety and ISO 9001 and AS4801 for environmental. They are currently going for federal accreditation. “A lot of government work you can’t do unless you got Occupational Health and Safety accreditation.”
The five-year-plan for Southern Vale Homes includes a succession plan for Graham to ensure the company continues to operate strongly when he steps down. They are also looking at entering new markets that could benefit from Southern Vale’s commitment to excellence. “The industry is certainly going through a downturn for the last year, but at the moment we’ve been looking at other markets that maybe we didn’t need to previously,” he explains.
Those other areas include investment, retirement and aged care markets. A significant number of their previous projects have been in those sectors already, so Southern Vale is well positioned to penetrate them further. In the next five years, they plan on revising their marketing strategy to better promote themselves as regional builder capable of handling those markets.
While Searle is aiming for a 10 to 20 per cent growth in the next five years, “more would be better,” he says. “We would be one of the few that could achieve that.”
Looking ahead longer term, Searle also sees the company exploring possible franchise opportunities. “We advertise ourselves as a good investment opportunity in regional areas,” he says. “We’re certainly investing in the future.”